Preterite vs. Imperfect – The past tenses of Spanish

In Spanish, there are two forms of past tense, compared to English which only has one. Most verbs can be put into either tense, depending upon the meaning. It is very important to conjugate these tenses properly as well as using them properly when talking about past events.  These tips are extremely useful for distinguishing the differences and uses between the two tense. Another great site to check out is www.studyspanish.com; this included many examples of regular and irregular verbs that will help in your Spanish classes!

 

Preterite                                                               

>describe past actions that are competed with a definite beginning and end.

>tells us specifically when an action took place (number of times, time of day, time period)

>  used for actions that occurred in a single event

Ella caminó por el parque. (She walked through the park.)

>  used for actions that were part of a chain of events

Vivimos allí por cuatro años. (We lived there for four years.)

>  to state the beginning or end of an action

Empezó a nevar a las ocho de la mañana. (It began to snow at eight in the morning.)

 

Preterite: regular -ar, -er, -ir verbs

AR:


-aste

-amos
-asteis

-aron
hablé, hablaste, habló, hablamos, hablasteis, hablaron

ER/IR:


-iste
-ió

-imos
-isteis

ieron

comí, comiste, comió, comimos, comisteis, comieron

viví, viviste, vivió, vivimos, vivisteis, vivieron

Imperfect

>  used for actions in the past that are not seen as complete (ongoing).

>  implies that a past action does not have a definite beginning or end.

>  used for actions that were repeated habitually.

Almorzábamos juntos todos los días. “We would lunch together every day”

>  used for actions that “set the stage” for another action.

Yo leía cuando entró mi papá. “I was reading when my papa entered.” (note that “entered” is preterite)

>  telling time and stating age. (childhood)

Eran las siete de la noche. “It was seven o’clock at night.”

La niña tenía cinco años. “The little girl was five years old.”

> The imperfect tense tells us in general when an action takes place.

 

Imperfect: regular -ar, -er, -ir

AR:

-aba
-abas
-aba

-ábamos
-abais

-aban
hablaba, hablabas, hablaba, hablábamos, hablabais, hablaban

ER/IR:

-ía
-ías
-ía

-íamos
-íais

-ían

comía, comías, comía, comíamos, comíais, comían

vivía, vivías, vivía, vivíamos, vivíais, vivían